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Valle de Oro wildlife refuge a state treasure deserving of full funding

The newly established Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Bernalillo County’s South Valley is poised to become one of New Mexico’s most valuable amenities, directly impacting the local economy and also the community in terms of conservation, recreation, education and quality of life benefits.

This urban wildlife refuge, located within a major metropolitan area, is the first of its kind in the Southwest.

The refuge will bolster New Mexico’s economy through regional, national and international tourism, resulting in job creation, new business income and tax revenues. Since it is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it will require no ongoing maintenance from the state, city or county.

Preservation of the significant senior water rights attached to the property will help protect and restore the Rio Grande, which is struggling to support the people and wildlife that depend upon it for water.

The refuge will provide substantial opportunities for outdoor recreation such as hiking and wildlife viewing and could provide an important trailhead along the planned Rio Grande Trail and be the new southern terminus of the popular Paseo del Bosque Trail.

Because of its accessibility, 10 minutes from Downtown Albuquerque and an estimated 30 minute drive from 60 percent of the state’s population, the refuge has huge potential for our children. It will most certainly be a field trip destination for all of our schools, where children will come to experience nature, connect classroom curriculum to experience and learn about the importance of conservation.

Momentum is building: a new refuge manager, Jennifer Owen White, has been recently hired. She has plans to involve the community in shaping the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge.

Her vision includes programs for recreationists, children and families while promoting the refuge system mission of protecting wildlife and habitat for present and future generations. She will ensure that the natural character of the area is preserved and protected while allowing for public access.

Follow the progress of the refuge on Facebook.

A refuge support group, Friends of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, has been formed and is actively recruiting members who would like to be involved in supporting and shaping the refuge. An urban waters federal partnership has been formed between the Environmental Protection Agency and Fish and Wildlife which will facilitate refuge goals of water quality and ecosystem restoration, while also addressing the local economy.

And the mayor of Albuquerque has recently released a draft of the Rio Grande Vision portion of ABQ the Plan which includes the refuge – a welcome show of support from the city.

Thanks to the overwhelming community, organizational and agency support, the refuge land purchase is very close to being complete, with one final phase remaining.

Funding partners include: Bernalillo County, which provided $5 million in vital seed money; AMAFCA, whose investment will expand much needed flood control capacity in the South Valley; the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program which uses fees from oil and gas drilling for land conservation; U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Wal-Mart’s Acres for America; Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions; and the state of New Mexico.

The federal fiscal year 2014 budget request for Fish and Wildlife includes the remaining approximately $5 million needed to complete this project, however it is ranked lower than last year, making it more precarious in these tight budget times.

Please ensure that this critical New Mexico education, recreation and conservation priority will receive the necessary funds needed to complete the land purchase by emailing Benjamin Tuggle, the Fish and Wildlife regional director, at RDTuggle@fws.gov and letting him know of your support for completing the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in fiscal year 2014.

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